Professor Jennifer Bernstein addresses her Visual Means class
Toggle caption Photo by Lawrence Lerner

Visualizing Equitable Growth in Newark

Rutgers University–Newark has launched a new initiative to make research on gentrification accessible to Newark policy makers and residents as the city pushes forward with economic development and undergoes major transformation.

Arts, Culture and Media Professor Jennifer Bernstein and Rutgers Law School Professor David Troutt are collaborating on a project called Visualizing Equitable Growth, which is being supported by a $15K Third Space Grant awarded from Express Newark. Bernstein, along with students in her Visual Means class, will create visual narratives based on Troutt’s data-intensive research on tenant-displacement risk factors to empower effective policymaking and advocacy around gentrification.

“Our goal is to create awareness, inspire community participation, and promote thoughtful and equitable development in the city of Newark through this publicly engaged scholarship,” says Bernstein, Co-Director of the Visual Means Studio at Express Newark, where students and faculty collaborate and use communication design to make advanced research understandable to target audiences while positively impacting the city of Newark.

The idea is to ensure the maximum amount of inclusion and opportunity for Newark’s current and future residents.

Troutt, who focuses on race, class and legal structure, among other subjects, is Founding Director of the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME), a research resource on the growing challenges that municipalities face trying to sustain a thriving middle-class amid growing fiscal constraints and rapid demographic change.

Mayor Ras Baraka consulted Troutt more than year ago, asking for recommendations on how to reduce displacement while attracting a middle class that could strengthen Newark’s tax-base. One result: a 15-member Equitable Growth Advisory Committee composed of members of government, academia and community organizations, along with private developers, which is being formed this year.

"Economic growth for a lot of cities is not that difficult to do. Equitable growth is very difficult to do,” says Troutt, who has developed a model called the Displacement Risk Indicators Matrix (DRIM), which examines trends in multiple factors across neighborhoods, wards and the city as a whole over time to determine the nature and the extent of housing-market change associated either with gentrification, increased displacement risk or both.

He says the tool can significantly aid policy makers in assessing how particular markets within the city are changing, the effect of particular reforms or investments, and the areas most in need of targeting by government resources. Equally important, the index can be read not merely to assess gentrification: It can signal displacement risk even in the absence of gentrification.

“The idea is to ensure the maximum amount of inclusion and opportunity for Newark’s current and future residents,” says Trout.

Bernstein’s Visual Means class, which is run as a student/faculty graphic design studio, is creating both static and interactive media to bring these issues to life, including posters, website, audio and installations.

Computer images of project

“In addition to visualizing the data, we’ll also bring in audio stories of residents to balance the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the project,” says Bernstein.

There are currently 10 students in Bernstein’s class, which runs twice a week for three-hour sessions. They started working on the Visualizing Equitable Growth project in the fall. It will be a multi-year effort involving 20 or more students total, as some graduate and others enter the class to take their place. They’ll also create a campaign to market the project to its intended audiences.

Bernstein and Troutt envision applying their model to other cities in the future, but for now they’re focused on Newark.

"This project is an opportunity to continue to engage our students, our university and our community in collaborative efforts to solve issues, discover new challenges, and to learn from each other,” says Bernstein. “We look forward to continuing our research, and ultimately releasing it for policy makers and the public to experience.”